Dear Seth and Julia,
When we last saw Don Draper, in December 1968, he was in the midst of a public breakdown and a personal breakthrough. At work, Don had, in Roger Sterling's to-the-point parlance, “shit the bed” by confessing to some untimely truths about his upbringing in the middle of a Hershey chocolate pitch meeting. It was a moment of unprecedented honesty that, on the heels of endless unreliable, alcoholic behavior, got him put on indefinite leave. But it seemed to us in the audience—who know Don better and in more detail than do any of the characters on the show, including quite possibly himself—like an important first step to resolving the intractable, existential dilemma of being Don Draper. He stopped dodging, stopped lying, and told the truth. Nothing else had ever worked.
But Don traversed the hellish circles of himself at an inopportune time. If 1968 is the year the dream of the ‘60s cracked up and fractured in the face of assassination upon assassination, it's not as if 1969 (or '70 or '71) stopped the nightmare. The clothes just got uglier. Of course, that might suit Dick Whitman, if not Don Draper, just fine. Don's whole sturm und drang is that he is wearing a dream that has become stifling. He fashioned himself a hyper-masculine, ultra-suave fantasy persona, but one that never could cure him of being himself. When he took his kids to see the house he grew up in, he was knocking down some of the myth of himself, which means, as ever, he was acting as a handy human weathervane for the paroxysms of the '60s, whose own myth was simultaneously crumbling.
The more broken down '70s might be a better—or at least more honest—fit for a broken-down Don/Dick. Or, of course, Don just might die. Here, in 2014, certain high-intensity TV viewers are going through a conspiracy theory phase: As in, we see them everywhere, imagining that every text secretly contains something much stranger. This sort of obsessive viewing and year round Easter-egg hunting, which recently turned True Detective into a creepy treasure hunt and, last season, had people speculating that Bob Benson was teleported in straight from the set of Lost, is just how we watch now, but in one of the synchronicities Matt Weiner is so fond of, it fits the late '60s mood of something wicked this way comes pretty perfectly. Mad Men encourages these sorts of macabre flights of fancy: The show's been hinting at the possibility of Don's death from the very first appearance of the opening credits, with Don falling down, down, down. More recently, Megan Draper has taken to dressing like Sharon Tate. I am not entirely convinced Don will die—it seems a little obvious for the surprise-obsessed Weiner—but I am convinced that, of any era-appropriate historical event, this season of Mad Men will certainly cover the Tate-LaBianca murders.
But as far as I’m concerned, Don can die a thousand deaths if it means a) Peggy Olsen gets to be a creative director somewhere, and b) Sally Draper survives the '60s and '70s with only the standard-issue trauma of having mediocre parents. Last season, repetitively going through Don's endless ish was often a slog; it was everyone but him that was a delight. I'm excited to be reunited with all the other characters, to check on Roger Sterling and the progress of his experiments with psychotropic drugs, to see how Ken Cosgrove's eye is doing, to determine if Stan's beard can now hold a pencil (let me confess, I'm 'shipping for Peggy and Stan these days), and to dream that Joanie might get a worthy storyline—and then to hash all of it out with both of you.